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courtesy of Christopher Elliott
It's going to be a big year for travel insurance. Really big.
A survey by the travel-insurance-comparison site Squaremouth predicts 24 percent more travelers will insure their international trips in 2019 than last year. Generali, the travel insurance company, says travelers spent an average of $139 per trip on insurance in 2018, unchanged from the previous year.
So do you have your travel insurance picked out already?
"The right insurance policy will protect you from unexpected issues that may arise," says Justin Tysdal, travel insurance expert and CEO of Seven Corners. "Something as simple as twisting an ankle in a foreign country may not be covered by your medical insurance and could result in expensive medical bills."
To find the right policy, you have to know what kind of travel insurance is out there. The rest – knowing where to shop and buy the policy – is easier. But whatever you do, don't skip the insurance. Not this year.
What Kind of Travel Insurance Is Available?
Stand-alone travel insurance falls into two broad categories: the more common but restrictive "named perils" policies, and the less common but less restrictive "cancel for any reason" policies. Your credit card, auto insurance or medical insurance may also cover part of your trip, though not as comprehensively as travel insurance.
If you're considering travel insurance, you're probably looking at a named perils policy offered through an online comparison site like Squaremouth or TravelInsurance.com, or directly through an insurance company like Generali or Allianz Travel Insurance.
But you should also consider the second variety, "cancel for any reason." It costs more – about 40% more than a named perils policy. It could be money well spent, according to Rajeev Shrivastava, CEO of VisitorsCoverage.com, a travel insurance site. The policy will cover you no matter what happens, including circumstances that regular insurance won't cover, such as a civil disturbance or a mental health claim.
"Travelers who purchase 'cancel for any reason' coverage can cancel their upcoming plans and recoup from 50% to 75 percent of their prepaid expenses," he adds.
What Travel Insurance to Buy
The next step is matching your coverage to your needs. For example, I'm on the road so often that I have an annual policy that covers my family and me. To be safe, I also have an annual MedjetHorizon membership for the whole gang, which covers medical evacuations. You might not need as much coverage if you travel less.
Quincy Smith, a former English teacher who worked abroad, reads the travel insurance policy terms carefully.
"The main thing I consider, in addition to overall company reviews, is the medical coverage in relation to the average prices in the country where I am going," he says. "For example, $15,000 worth of coverage might be adequate for Thailand, but I'd likely up it to $50,000 or $100,000 if I were going to Europe. The price difference of the policy isn’t significant and it gives me peace of mind that I'll be fully covered in more expensive countries."
Then again, if you only need to insure one aspect of your trip, you might want to go a little smaller. Take your rental car: Your auto insurance or your credit card might already cover you, or you can buy a stand-alone car rental policy through a site like InsureMyRentalCar.com.
Where to Buy Your Travel Insurance
Smith prefers to shop for his policies at InsureMyTrip.com, one of several travel insurance sites. You can also easily find and compare policies at VisitorsCoverage.com or G1G.com. A comparison site is a great place to start, but it's not the only place you can buy a policy.
Many travel companies, especially airlines and online travel agencies, will offer a policy when you book a trip. Experts say you should read that policy carefully before buying; some of them are "lite" versions of the policies sold through a travel insurance company, with significant restrictions. You might also consult your travel agent or insurance agent on which policies you should consider. That's particularly helpful when you're not sure what you need to cover. A qualified agent will help you sort through all of that.
Above all, make sure you consider insurance well before you leave. If you're considering a "cancel for any reason" policy, for example, you have 20 days from the time of your trip purchase to buy a policy. After that, you may be stuck with a less comprehensive policy.
This is the year to consider a travel insurance policy, given all the global insecurities and the increasingly restrictive policies of travel companies.
"If you can’t afford travel insurance," says Sheryl Hill, the founder of the travel nonprofit Depart Smart, "you can’t afford to travel."
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Christopher Elliott's latest book is How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler (National Geographic). This column originally appeared in USA Today.
© 2019 Christopher Elliott.